In Light of the STAR

In my book, Walking Between The Lines: Some Stories The Bible Didn’t Tell, I offer an imaginative way of digging into the stories of Scripture. I suggest to the reader that when Scripture is opened, it can be read, and listened to, or even retold, from the point of view of someone who was actually there – from the words of the Evangelist, or even from the words of someone “who might have been there.” It is a process of allowing the beauty and the mystery of the stories to fill our imaginations, our hearts, and our souls.
The Basic steps are as follows:
·      Pick a story from Scripture, then read it. But don’t just read it, allow it to come alive within you, close your eyes, and BE THERE.
·      Choose a character – one who is actually in the Scripture story, e.g. Peter, the Samaritan woman at the well, the Roman Centurion at the foot of the cross; or imagine a character who might have been there, e.g. the owner of the boat that Jesus took out into the Sea of Galilee, or maybe a very dear friend of Jairus, the synagogue official whose daughter was brought back from death, or as we will do in this Advent adventure, the daughter of the innkeeper, or a stable hand, a shepherd maybe – then allow that character to share their full story with you. (You will see what I mean as you read the stories found here.)
It is my hope, my prayer, that once you allow yourself to “walk between the lines,” you just won’t be able to look at our marvelous faith story any other way. And I pray that God will whisper messages, and thoughts of peace and joy into your heart. May your walk this Holy Season be your best one ever.
- E. R. Gervais

To get things started, I would like to share with you a story that I wrote for a recent parish presentation. As I was preparing to write, I was wondering; after the angel Gabriel broke the news to Mary that she would conceive and bear a son, who did she tell first? We know that the angel also appeared to Joseph, so she really didn't need to tell him, though she probably did. We also know from Scripture that Mary visited Elizabeth. But I got to thinking, certainly Mary (being a young woman) must have had a very close friend, someone whom she could confide in. Below you will find Atarah's story...

Friends, or Family…It’s the Perspective:
A Story Based on Luke 1: 39-56
My name is Atarah. I grew up in the town of Hebron, a sizable town in the hill country of Judah, a morning’s walk from Jerusalem. I could share with you the story of how I came to be adopted by two of the most amazing people in the world, a priest named Zechariah, and his wife Elizabeth. But, the story I really wish to share with you is the one of my friendship with Elizabeth’s cousin, Mary.
Mary, began to visit us – I better at least share with you that Elizabeth and Zechariah adopted me when both of my parents were killed by Zealots, because it was rumored that my father was assisting the Romans. So you can see why I don’t really like talking about it. I prefer to think of how God blessed me with the life I now lead. Zechariah would always remind me of how each of us is an instrument of God’s love and grace, and that each of us do not live by chance or happenstance.
Mary began to visit us when we were both very young. Mary and I connected from the moment we first met. Though not related in blood, we are sisters in the truest sense of the Spirit of God. So over time, we could almost know what the other was thinking. I want to share with you a story of a very special day…
This story actually begins with the day that Zechariah came home from the temple and he could not speak, nor could he hear anything that Elizabeth or I had to say. Then within a full cycle of the moon, things got really crazy when, Elizabeth, a woman who was by all natural understanding too old to bear a child, became with child. It was through signs and lots of writing, that Zechariah finally shared the whole story of some angel named Gabriel telling him all this was going to happen.
Believe me when I say, I was more than skeptical. But, there she was, the woman who I now called mother, was going to give me a brother, or at least that’s what Zechariah said. They would have a son.
If that was not crazy enough, one night I had a dream, and in the dream I saw a very tall man, all dressed in white motioning for me to come over to where he was standing. I did as I was instructed, and he whispered in my ear, “Atarah, very soon, your sister Mary will pay you a visit and share with you an incredible story, and you will rejoice, and be glad, but the most important thing that you must remember, is that when you see the great Star appear, and when the travelers pass this way, you will direct them to Bethlehem, for it is there that Mary’s child will be born, and it is there that the world will welcome its Savior.”
And as the sun rose, I heard my sister’s voice greeting Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s greeting still rings in my heart, every day of my life, “Most blessed are you, and blessed is the fruit of your womb…”
Mary and I would talk through the night… (Fill in the conversation for yourself. What a night of stories that must have looked like.)

For our next story, I would like to take you to that glorious night. In Scripture, Luke gives us a fairly good picture of what happened. But, I must ask, did it really happen as some isolated moment ? I really don't think so. I wrote the following story last year for a presentation at the Christmas Eve Children's Mass. You can also find it in the book... 

The Little Shepherd Girl
A Story Based on Luke 2: 8 – 20
Shalom, my name is Shira. I was born eleven years before the appearance of the Great Star. My father, Jacob, owned a herd of thirty or so sheep. We never really knew exactly how many sheep we had, because almost every time my brother Benjamin and I would herd them out to the hill to graze, at least one would wander off and sometimes get lost. But, it always seemed like, when one got lost, another would wander back into the herd a few days later along with a friend, and our herd would have a new number.
This lost sheep thing would often get very annoying, but like my father would always say to me, “Shira, don’t you know that if you ever got lost, I would drop everything to go and find you.” Then he would explain it to me; that is exactly how Yahweh – that’s God, if you didn’t know – looks on us. We are God’s sheep, and one day soon Yahweh is going to send the best Shepherd in the world to care for us.

I don’t think you want to hear me talk about sheep all night, but I think you do want to hear about how I was the first person, other than his mother to hold The Great Shepherd…
It must have been two or three days after the Great Star first made its appearance in the sky. The whole town was buzzing with wonder and amazement. What made it even crazier, was the fact that people from all over Judea, and Samaria, and even some from Jerusalem were coming to Bethlehem. You see the Romans said that every Hebrew must go to the city or town of their ancestry. This turned out to be very easy for my family because my father came from a long line of men who traced their heritage all the way back to working for the great King David, and Bethlehem was David’s town. So we did not have to travel. We could register right here where we lived. I even heard my father say to a friend of his that he believed the Great Shepherd, the Messiah, they called him, would be born right here in Bethlehem. Wow! How wonderful would that be?
Well, it just so happened that this particular night, I was out in the fields with our herd. My brother had decided that he wanted to go to his betrothed’s house for supper, and abba thought it would be alright for me to stay out in the field with the herd. Two things happened that were very strange. The first thing was I could swear that I saw the Great Star float to a place in the sky that looked like it was right over my family’s house and stable.
Our house is right next to one of the biggest inns in Bethlehem, and the inn had been full for days, and many people had been asking if we had room, but my father would say, “You can sleep in the stable if you like.” Well, all of them left in a huff.
I swear I saw the star move, and just as I turned to watch it, there was a really tall man, all dressed in white, standing right in front of me. I jumped back. Then he spoke.
“Do not be afraid, Shira.”
“How do you know my name,” I asked.
“All things are possible through Yahweh,” he said.
Immediately, I felt a calmness come over me. I had never, ever, in my life felt anything like this. I didn’t know what to do or say, so I just asked…
“What’s your name?”
“I have been called by many names but you can call me Gabriel,” he replied.
“What are you doing out here in this field,” I asked, “You don’t look like you are traveling.”
Then he explained everything to me.
“On this night in your family’s stable, a child would be born, and this child will be the savior of all the world. He will save all who believe in the glory and wonder of Yahweh. This child will grow up and he will be The Great Shepherd to all of God’s children. And you Shira, daughter of Jacob, shall be the first to pay him homage. So go now, return home, go to the stable, and prepare a special place. For tonight, a king is to be born. And do not worry about your sheep. I have promised Yahweh that no harm shall come to them until you return.”
Then the man faded from my sight. I did not know what to do, so I immediately turned and began to run back toward the town. As soon as I arrived home, I saw a man talking with my father. The man was holding on to the reigns of a donkey, and sitting on the donkey was a woman, who I took for his wife, and she was with child, and very much ready for giving birth.
I turned when I heard my mother calling out to me, “Shira, quick! Go and get the cleanest straw from the bin, and lay it in the manger. Then go, and get the blanket that I just finished knitting. The one that I made for the synagogue altar, and lay it on the straw.”
I did as I was told. Then I saw my father and mother help the man and his wife. And they laid her upon the fresh straw. Then my father shouted over to me, “Shira, go and get the two lambs from the pen. Lead them over here and press them close to Mary’s side. They will help to keep her and the child warm.”
Again, I followed instructions. And, just as I returned, I heard the cry of a new born babe. My mother handed the lady some swaddling cloth, and she wrapped the babe. Then the lady handed the child to me and said, “Would you please lay him in the manger. I was told by an angel to name him Jesus, for he would be the Shepherd of many nations.”
 One more time, I did as I was instructed. I took the babe, and laid him in the manger, upon the blanket, and I covered him, and he looked up at me and smiled. And from behind me, I heard, “Well done, Shira!” I turned around, and the man, Gabriel, the man dressed in white; the man I had just met, was standing in the doorway of the stable. And he said,
 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.”

Luke tells us, "Now there were shepherds in the fields..." There wasn't one, but multiple shepherds. Have you ever wondered what their story would sound like? Well I have, and here is one possibility.

It Will Never Be The Same:
A Story Based on Luke 2: 8-20
“Abba, must I really go out and stand watch tonight? It is so cold, surely no self-respecting thief wants to try to steal anything on a night like this. The sheep are more than content to huddle next to each other, and not wander off.”
My father’s eyes, combined with the sound of my name, “Ithiel,” was the only answer needed. So, I grabbed my staff and my bag, which was filled with two loaves of my mother’s best date bread. She knew that my friends and I would need something to fill our insides.
“Here,” she said, “I put some warm shekar in your water skin.”
I put two tunics over my head, and secured them with a good knot, put a scarf across my face and headed out. Within three steps, Haran and Gehazi met me.
“I cannot believe we must go out and tend the flock on a night such as this,” bellowed Haran. Gehazi just grunted his agreement.
It took us a little longer than usual to reach the fields, for we walked slowly, hoping beyond hope that our parents might think better, and send word for us to return home. Along the way we decided wherever the sheep were grazing, we would herd them to the cave that we had built just for a night such as this. Of course, when we arrived at our pastures the sheep had managed to walk to the top of the hill.
Haran headed up the path ahead of Gehazi and I, and reached the top where several of the sheep were grazing. He turned, “Gehazi, Ithiel, quick, get up here. You are not going to believe this sight.” When we reached the top of the hill our eyes confirmed Haran’s excitement. There, in the western sky, directly over the town of Bethlehem, brighter than a full moon in a clear sky, was the largest, most amazing star that I had ever had the blessing to gaze upon.
Gehazi turned to me, “Ithiel, what do you think this means? It has to be a sign of something. Isn’t there something in the Book of Isaiah, or Daniel about the signs of a messiah?
“How am I supposed to know,” I chimed.
Then Haran interjected, “Well, you are the big shot who will be attending the school in Sepphoris next term. You must have been doing some readings on the prophets.”
I just shrugged my shoulders. I was as awestruck as my friends, and yes I was planning on attending the rabbinical school. In spite of my father’s objections, I was not going to be a shepherd my entire life.
I don’t know if it was the star, or the weather, but every sheep and goat gathered in or around the cave. While Gehazi and I could not take our eyes off the star, Haran had already gathered firewood, and was starting the fire.
With the fire raging and the warmth beginning to penetrate, my friends and I dove into mother’s date bread. Haran had three cups in his bag, so I poured the shekar, and we began our now “star – lit feast.”
Suddenly the fire began to DANCE. I don’t know how else to describe it. I could sense the fear in my friends, for it was growing in me as well. In the next instant we heard a voice from behind us, “Do not be afraid!”

We all turned our heads to see a very tall man, all dressed in white, and the light from the Star seemed to be reflecting off his tunic, which caused each of us to cover our eyes. Then the man called out again, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Then we heard singing from the heavens, and when we looked up we could see what had to have been angels circling above, and I looked back at the man, and he was gone. Then the angels finished with, “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
Both of my friends looked at me, “What should we do?”
“Go to Bethlehem,” I replied.
“And where should we go,” they asked.
“Wherever that Star leads us…”

And for our final story...there were magi, were there not? From all research we can be somewhat certain of a few things. Magi would have been intelligent (for the day and time). They would have had considerable resources (not necessarily wealthy as a king might be) to be able to travel as they did. Odds are, they did not travel alone (at the very least one servant or apprentice for each). More than likely they came from the region of Persia. Was it just idle curiosity, that motivated them, or could it be that God whispers to all...

A Star Appears:
A Story based on Matthew 2: 1-12
It was late. I had just finished cleaning the workroom for my master Melchior. He was the oldest of the magi in the school. He took a liking to me for some reason on the day that I had tried to untie his purse while he was shopping in the spice market. If I had not tripped over the shop owner’s dog, I just might have succeeded in my quest. But, that old coot was fast. Before I could get to my feet, his staff was pressing into my hand, and the purse was just as quickly returned to his possession. One of the palace guards had witnessed my attempt and was standing at my head, which was barely off the ground.

“Melchior, should I take him to the constable.”
“No, Talik, I think this one wishes to become my apprentice.” Then the old man turned and drove a stare right into my soul. How could I say no? “Isn’t that correct my boy? You were merely asking me for that position.”
“Yes, master! Please, if that would be agreeable to you?”
“It would.”
I remember that day as though it were yesterday, and it has been three years since I have served as apprentice. Over the years Melchior has taught me so much, not the least of which is, there are so many marvelous and wonderful things in this world that there must be some Divine Spirit at its beginning.
Everyone it seemed had retired for the evening, except for me. I always used this time to study, and pray, and reflect on my own. Lately, I had become fascinated with the Hebrew writings of Isaiah. Much of what was written had come to pass. I read it often, and there was this one passage which stuck with me from the very moment I had read it, it said, “Behold, a virgin will be with child, and will bear a son and she will call his name Emmanuel.” It is a name which means, God is with us. I had shared this with my master, and he too became enthralled with these writings, as did two of his students who were now magi in their own right, Balthasar, and Gaspar.
I was sitting on the balcony, reading this passage again, when suddenly a light so bright appeared in the sky, and it seemed to be focused right on the spot on which I was perched. I looked up, and there, in the Western sky, a star brighter than the moon, practically sparkling, dancing, almost as though it were beckoning all the stars in the sky to gather round.

I leapt to my feet and immediately headed to my master’s room. Upon arriving, I did not bother to knock. When I reached my master’s bed, I found him on his knees deep in prayer. I stood there, not quite sure if I should disturb or just quietly try to creep back out. I chose the latter, but before I took one step I heard my master’s voice from behind me.
“Babak, make preparations for a journey. We are going the follow the Star.”
I got terribly excited, “Master, you were awake! You saw it.”
“I was not awake, I heard a whisper in my sleep that told me to get up and look out the window.”
Before I could answer, Balthasar and Gaspar, with each of their apprentices, Kurush and Narseh burst through the door. Balthasar spoke first.
“Is this…”
“It must be,” Melchior interrupted, “There has never been a sign of this magnitude to ever grace the heavens. I have instructed Babak to begin preparing for the journey.
Gaspar and Balthasar each turned to Kurush and Narseh and instructed them likewise. My two friends and I did not hesitate. We quickly headed out the room and began our tasks. We were finally going on a journey...

So, have I peaked your wonder? Have you started to imagine all the amazing and wonderful things that could have been going on "In Light of the Star." Our God is indeed good. For on that Star filled night, he sent to us a savior, to be named Emmanuel, which means "God is with us." And we were instructed to give...
"Glory to God in the highest, and peace to people on earth."